TORONTO – Toronto Maple Leafs fans didn’t have to watch Amazon Prime’s “All or Nothing” documentary to understand that Frederik Andersen‘s final days with the Toronto Maple Leafs were, at best, strained.
And they won’t have to squint too hard, reading between the lines, as the Carolina Hurricanes’ new star responded Thursday to a question about life as the No. 1 goalie in the market most magnified.
“I dealt with a lot of different things that you don’t see,” Andersen said of his five years a Leaf. “Definitely before the pandemic was a fun time for me, and I think the world changed quite drastically, and it was never the same.
“Definitely enjoyed the first few years I was here.”
How about his relationship with the passionate and routinely disappointed fan base?
“When things are going well, they want you to cheer for you. They want you to do well, to play well for the city,” Andersen said. “I guess different fan bases express that differently.”
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour chimed in, surmising what it must be like, patrolling the sport’s most important position in a market where hockey reigns, compared to one where hockey is ecstatic to make front page.
“There’s a huge difference, obviously, playing here with the attention on every little detail. Especially for a goalie. Our goalie might give up a bad one, but we don’t talk about, you don’t hear about it. We talk about the 10 great saves he made,” Brind’Amour explained. “In a bigger market like this, you guys scrutinize that one and forget about the 10 saves beforehand. Over time, maybe that wears on you a little bit.
“You get probably overcooked when you’re just playing OK. And you probably get thrown to the wolves a little bit when things are not as bad as they are.”
Andersen knows well the growling snarl that has greeted Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek of late.
Amidst the Leafs’ 5-2 loss at Sunday’s Heritage Classic, for example, one Leafs fan held up a homemade sign reading: “I MISS FREDDY.” If Mrazek had been glancing at the big screen at the right moment, he would’ve seen that.
Like the ex who hit the gym, cut out the midnight snacks and is now flexing on Instagram, Andersen returns to Toronto looking worlds better than when he divorced Leafs Nation as a backup with a banged-up knee.
“Freddy’s so calm. He’s so good. He’s so big in the net. His presence is there,” raved Carolina forward Steven Lorentz.
“There are times where I’ve messed up and the puck is going the other way, and I know that Freddy’s got my back. It gives you a whole lot of confidence. When a guy bails you out like that, it just makes you wanna play that much harder.”
Andersen’s replacement, Mrazek, is scuffling along with .884 save percentage. The Maple Leafs have lost so much faith in the veteran’s ability to stop the puck, they’re not giving him the start Thursday against his former club.
Even though Campbell, who snagged Andersen’s No. 1 status right around this time a year ago, is sidelined with a rib injury.
Even though Mrazek defeated Andersen 4-3 in overtime on Feb. 7, the goalies’ first head-to-head clash since the summertime switcheroo.
And even though the Maple Leafs’ current best option, Erik Källgren, has all of 90 minutes’ experience on his NHL resume.
There is a massive gap between level of comfort and certainty these two contenders have in their crease right now. (In his most recent ranking of the NHL’s goalie tandems, Mike McKenna slots Carolina No. 1 and knocks Toronto all the way down to No. 29.)
The Hurricanes roll into town with the league’s stingiest goals-against average (2.36) and will start a likely Vezina candidate with the best GAA (2.06) and second-best save percentage (.929) among all NHL netminders.
Asked how Andersen has fit in since leaving Toronto for Carolina in the off-season, Brind’Amour replied with one word: “Perfectly.”
Andersen, 32, attributes his bounce back to three things: his devotion to getting healthy over the summer, playing behind good players and the sturdy team-first culture in Raleigh.
“Just really enjoying playing again,” Andersen said.
“We have a really good D corps. So many players I’ve been really impressed with seeing up close. The whole team, the buy-in from everyone is huge. It helps knowing where everyone is going to be and knowing we can trust each other out there.”
Andersen highlights Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo, in particular, as defenders that he didn’t know a tonne about before he signed but have opened his eyes with their skill and commitment.
“(DeAngelo) is the guy I enjoy hanging out with at the rink a lot, and he’s an incredible guy. Great to have on the ice, too,” Andersen said.
“There’s a lot of good players in the league, but until you see them up close and get to know them, that’s when you can get your own impression.”
What’s different about Andersen’s second return to Scotiabank Arena is that this time the barn will be full — and fuelled by green beer.
Asked how he imagines his reception on St. Patrick’s Day, Andersen paused a beat.
“We’ll see. I got a nice little tribute last time from the fans that were here (in February),” Andersen says.
“I feel like they appreciated the time I was here for, and we’ll see what happens when the whole rink is filled up. I’m just excited to be back playing.”